Chattanooga: Annexation opposition cranks up

Chattanooga: Annexation opposition cranks up

July 5th, 2009 by Matt Wilson in Politics Local

Open lobbying against Chattanooga's annexation plans has begun.

Hamilton County Commissioner John Allen Brooks sent a letter to five of nine City Council members - Peter Murphy, Manny Rico, AndraƩ McGary, Deborah Scott and Carol Berz - urging them to vote against annexation. Each represents a part of Mr. Brooks' district.

"I will do everything in my power to convince my fellow commissioners and City Council members that this is an ill-conceived and ill-timed act," Mr. Brooks wrote last month.

Commissioner Larry Henry said he will do the same.

"There's a lot of questions that are not answered," he said of Mayor Ron Littlefield's plans to expand the city's boundaries through annexation.

The mayor's proposal "kind of blindsided all of us," Mr. Henry said, adding there has been very little communication among city and county officials.

Mr. Littlefield said several commissioners were on the panel when the Urban Growth Boundary agreement initially was made 10 years ago. Bill Hullander, Fred Skillern, Richard Casavant and Curtis Adams were on the commission when the 20-year growth plan was adopted in 2001.

"I don't expect them to stand up and cheer," Mr. Littlefield said Thursday. "But a deal is a deal."

The mayor has said he wants to annex all property within the city's designated urban growth boundary during his second term in office. That area includes large swaths of East Brainerd as well as areas along state Highway 58 and Hixson Pike.

The creation of the countywide urban growth plan essentially settled the question of what could and couldn't be annexed, Dr. Casavant said. The decision ultimately rests with the City Council.

Commission Chairman Jim Coppinger said lack communication from the city was a "big disappointment," adding he, too, has spoken to council members Mr. Rico, Mr. Murphy and Ms. Scott as well as Pam Ladd.

Mr. Coppinger has asked for information about how many people the annexation would take in and how much revenue that would mean for the city, but he hasn't received those answers.

Mr. Littlefield has said city officials are gathering that data.

Mr. Coppinger, Mr. Henry and Mr. Brooks were among the commissioners who, along with County Mayor Claude Ramsey, openly criticized Mr. Littlefield's annexation plan at a commission meeting last month.

Mike Dunne, a spokesman for Mr. Ramsey, did not say whether the county mayor would speak to council members about annexation. But he reiterated that Mr. Ramsey has opposed the annexation plan.

"Mayor Ramsey has publicly spoken on at least four occasions about his opposition to annexation, most recently this past Thursday as Mayor Ramsey introduced Mayor Littlefield at his State of the City address," Mr. Dunne said.

Commissioner Bill Hullander, a small part of whose district could be annexed, said city officials already know his stance on the issue.

"I'm totally against (annexation)," he said. "We've got the services that we want and need."

Mr. Hullander said he will ask Mr. Coppinger about bringing a resolution formally to oppose annexation.

Mr. Coppinger said he would be OK with a resolution opposing annexation, but he prefers lobbying council members in one-on-one conversations. Council members have been receptive to his suggestions, he said, though he has received no commitments.

Dr. Casavant, whose district reaches into small areas in the county's southwest corner that could be annexed, said he already has made his opposition to annexation clear. Lobbying the council, he said, would be "tilting at windmills."

Staff writer Cliff Hightower contributed to this story.